South Dakota has sent Democrats to the Senate on a reasonably consistent basis for fifty years, and it has on an even more consistent basis over an even longer period of time sent prairie populists to the Senate: from the actual Populist Party’s James Kyle to Silver Republican Richard F. Pettigrew to modern Democrats George McGovern and Jim Abourezk.
This year, with South Dakota’s Senate seat open, Rick Weiland is running like the prairie populists of old—challenging the big corporations that don’t pay their fair share of taxes, big banks that seek bailouts and, above all, the big money that has come to dominate our politics. He has attracted considerable support in South Dakota. Unfortunately, a lot of Washington Democrats have a hard time understanding a politics that eschews concession and compromise and instead preaches of fire-and-brimstone gospel of economic and social justice.
Weiland speaks the language of the old-time populists. He says, “I was born here. I grew up on this land. It was ours because our democracy kept it that way. Today our democracy is being bought by big money and turned against us. To feed their profits we lose our jobs, our homes and our farms, our kids’ education, even our health, and the Congress they have bought looks the other way, or worse.”
The Democratic contender campaigns as the populists did, not with slick television commercials but on the road, with a commitment to visit every one of South Dakota’s 311 towns.
In those towns, he explains that:
Big money has rigged our economy so that heads they win and tails we lose:
· Crash the economy by blatant criminal and irresponsible behavior. Get bailed out.
· Get caught defrauding American tax payers and have to pay billions of dollars in fines… not to worry those fines are tax deductible.
· Donate a million dollars to a politician and get a billion dollar tax break. That is how they see it. That is how they have made it.
Weiland proposed voluntary campaign spending limits. But his likely foe, former Governor Mike Rounds, rejected the idea and has announced plans to raise an epic campaign fund of $9 million—with an eye toward scaring other candidates and Democratic donors away from the race.
Weiland refused to back down. He's running against the money, saying, “It is time to stand up and take our country back. We have done it before and we need to do it again.” To that end, he pledges that the first bill he will introduce as a senator is a constitutional amendment that reads, “So that the votes of all, rather than the wealth of a few, shall direct the course of the Republic, Congress shall have the power to limit the raising and spending of money with respect to federal elections.”
It is certainly true that Weiland faces a fight to keep the seat held by retiring US Senator Tim Johnson in Democratic hands. South Dakota has not backed a Democrat for president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and it has not elected a Democratic governor since Dick Kneip was re-elected in 1974—along with McGovern. Yet, Weiland is determined to spark a populist uprising.